A studio/seminar investigation of the nature and practice of design as a story-telling and framing activity. Within this context, attention is devoted to episodes of design history, to the ways that history has been told, to the ways that any design tells stories about itself, and to design practice as a rhetorical activity. Participation involves research, development and presentation of ideas in seminar papers and in design exercises

Design tells others’ stories, but every design tells a story about design. Design is intentional, but makes (intentional) room for accident. Design is about drawing — plans, diagrams, sketches. And it is about limiting, designating, framing stories and information from particular perspectives, for particular needs. It is a discursive activity, conversational. More or less collaborative.

This course has specific learning objectives, a few continuing obsessions/topics (emblems, for example, maybe wallpaper and ornament), but it is also improvisatory. Much of the content of the course will depend on what's happening out there, in and beyond design. A word or turn of phrase, by any one of us, can move the conversation into unanticipated directions.


familiarity with

  1. instances of design
  2. historical tributaries of design
  3. emblematics, symbols
  4. sprezzatura, technical facility, beauty
  5. emergence of design as a discreet practice (in 19c), which relates to
  6. intersections and divergences of art and design, over time
  7. copying, replication, evolution of design as a practice
  8. design education
  9. design’s autobiography, in the form of design annuals (boring when new, fascinating after the age of 40!) and major design exhibitions over the years, including Mixing Messages (1996), Design Culture Now (2000), Design Life Now (2006), and Graphic Design: Now in Production (2011)
  10. empathic design, caritas, rhetoric and design
  11. who’s missing? what’s missing?
    elsewheres, differently abled (blind), ages
  12. generative design
  13. development of critical and argumentational skills with regard to design
  14. ability to bring ideas/theory into practice, and vice versa
  15. ability to tell a story.


book, to be determined (finished in advance of Open House, Saturday 13 April)


partial list

  1. filmmakers David Gatten, Erin Espelie (Friday 22, Saturday 23 February)
  2. Gregory Maxim (MRNVR) (Friday 29 March)
  3. New York trip (Saturday 6 April)
  4. Blunt : Explicit and Graphic Design Criticism Now
    (Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, Friday-Sunday 12-14 April)



  1. Patrick Cramsie. The Story of Graphic Design. (Abrams, 2010)
  2. Adrian Shaughnessy. Graphic Design: A User’s Manual. (Laurence King, 2009)

Students are responsible for reading Cramsie, on their own, throughout the semester. There may be quizzes.

There will be other assigned readings as well, print and web. Keep abreast of the design blogosphere (Design Observer, GrainEdit, etc.); keep an eye on Eye and other design magazines.


There will be a number of studio/design exercises throughout the course of the semester. A glance at the archived course blogs for 2008-2010 will give you a sense of the kinds of projects there have been, and might be again. Here, and among elsewheres at upper right.

We will also be using the The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design — 500 double sided sheets, one side presenting a large visual of a selected instance of exemplary design, the second side presenting details. Indeed, we will be extrapolating from, and adding to, that archive.

criteria for credit

Physical and mental attendance required. Do and think about the readings; think about and do the exercises, writing. Participate, bring what you know (and don’t know, your questions) into the conversation. Do this and you’ll be all right.

Excessive absences, or silences, or latenesses, will affect your grade.

The discursive nature of the class means that it may not be as structured as some other studio classes. It’s structured around ideas and the conversation. If you anticipate that you have learning differences that could be a challenge, see Colleen Michaels in the Writing Center to figure out how to proceed. We’ll make it work.